I got home last night at just after 11 PM, so I did what I normally do on nights like that and flipped the TV on to the Extra Innings channel while loading up MLB.com to see if the Pirates were still on. I saw that not only where they still on, but they were winning 7-4 in the eighth inning AND the game was on the HD channel. Triple score!
I turned the game on as the ball Chris Iannetta hit was literally in the air and headed over the fence to make the score 7-7. This was not a good sign. When the Pirates came to the plate in the top of the ninth, I thought to myself, "We have to score here, or we won't win." We didn't score. Then Todd Helton hit a ball about 800 feet while the stupid, pompous Rockies' announcers freaked out about how relevant the Rockies were again now that they'd won 15 of 16 and pulled to within, oh, 9 1/2 games of first place. Yeah, they didn't mention that. This is one of those games that we thought would probably happen coming into the season, but since our 'pen has been better than expected, the end of that game last night kind of hit like a sledgehammer.
On the bright side, it seems like Charlie Morton pitched well last night. PitchFX measured his fastball as averaging 92 mph and the graph shows that he topped that number quite a bit. His curve and changeup also seemed to give a nice change of pace with some movement, so we can call this an encouraging first start, I think, given his line for the night (2 ER in 5 innings with 2 BB and 5 K). He also got some good backing defense from Nyjer Morgan and Andrew McCutchen, while 'Cutch added his fourth triple of the year with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Those brigh spots don't make this loss much easier to swallow, though.
Charlie Morton gets the second start of his Bucco career tonight, which hopefully will last longer than his first. he matches up with ex-Ray Jason Hammel. Don't forget this one starts at 8:10, not 9:10 like last night.
Monroe is gone, Steve Pearce is coming up in his place. A precursor to another move, or just done to get Pearce into the lineup regularly with Brandon Moss struggling?
Last night's quick recap: Ohlendorf struggled, Marquis dominated us, Andrew McCutchen is awesome. I'm off to Charlotte for the day.
First off, congrats to long-time reader Dave W. as the winner of the ticket drawing! Thanks to everyone that entered, and of course a huge thanks goes to Dan of Ticket Stumbler for giving me an opportunity to give something back to you guys.
Meanwhile, Wilbur Miller has been busy. He's got capsules posted for every draftee this year (and the page doubles as a signing tracker), plus two longer pieces (one and two) that review the draft and give his take on it.
And those are the only links for this afternoon, because you should use all your free time on Wilbur's site if you're at all interested in the draft.
I'm going to try a different path when answering this question than last time. Last time, I tried to address the question of whether or not Nyjer Morgan is, or could be, a good offensive player. There's no need to address that question any more. He's not. He's got a .341 OBP, a sub .700 OPS, and he's only stealing bases at a 68% clip. His walks are up a bit this year, but his batting average is down and in general, his line is pretty much in accord with what was generally expected of him coming in to 2009. His VORP is 1.7, barely above replacement level.
Morgan has, however, created an interesting argument for himself with his defense this year. Using FanGraphs' UZR, he's saved the most runs of any defender this year and he's got one of the highest UZR/150 rates of anyone in either league. He's on pace to save the Pirates somewhere in the vicinity of 25 runs in the outfield this year. A half of a season or so probably isn't enough data to draw any strong conclusions from UZR, but since Morgan's numbers are pretty similar to the ones he put up in almost 60 games last year, it's probably safe to say that Morgan is a plus-plus defender in the outfield.
The creates an interesting test for defensive metrics as the latest fad in baseball. Teams have gone with defense over offense before, but almost always in positions further to the right on the defensive spectrum; shortstop, center field, second base are the positions that most commonly give up offense for defense. To do it in left field seems to be a little crazy; Baseball Prospectus counts Morgan as about a win and a half above replacement right now using WARP, which measures defense with Fielding Runs Above Replacement (measured differently than UZR). That makes him the 100th best position player in baseball right now, out of 308 that have at least 100 PAs. That's really not good enough; you'll find a lot of corner fielders much closer to the top of the league than that (Jason Bay, Ryan Braun, Carl Crawford are all left fielders in the top 30, along with other corner outfielders like Nelson Cruz, Alex Rios, Shin-Soo Choo, Raul Ibanez, and Ichiro).
What this does is create an interesting puzzle for Huntington. Morgan's defense makes him more valuable than your typical speedy, light-hitting outfielder (Willy Taveras, Juan Pierre in most years when he doesn't hit that well), but it's still not really good enough to justify playing him in a corner position. If the Pirates do, in fact, choose to leave him there long-term (which doesn't seem likely to me, but they do seem to love a good defensive outfielder in left field and if Morgan doesn't play there, we may revisit this entire scenario with Gorkys Hernandez in two or three years' time), they're going to have to find offense from another spot on the diamond at the point in the future that they're nearing contention. Does that mean sacrificing defense at a position (shortstop, second base) that might be as important or more important to the pitchers? How does the big left field change the defensive spectrum at PNC Park?
Maybe a more pertinent question is how much offense a team with good defense and pitching needs. The Rays got a lot of attention last year for those two qualities, but they still scored 774 runs, just about dead average in the American League. Any team that starts Nyjer Morgan in left field isn't going to be average offensively, and that's a problem no matter how much defense he brings.
Can anyone remember a game with a DH lasting just 2 hours and 7 minutes at any point in the past? Nick Blackburn mowed us down all afternoon and that combined with sloppy defense and a middling start from Zach Duke is a pretty good recipe for a loss.
At least we took one of the three in Minnesota. I wasn't sure we were going to even get that many. Sorry to make this recap so short, but I'm going to the Bulls game tonight, so I gotta run.
Just thinking about playing a baseball game in the Metrodome on a June afternoon makes me a little bit sad. The Pirates go for the series win at 1:10 today with Nick Blackburn and Zach Duke on the mound, which means that it's entirely possible that we get a bit of a pitcher's duel for the first time in this series.